Hewins, Caroline Maria (1846–1926)

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Hewins, Caroline Maria (1846–1926)

American librarian . Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on October 10, 1846; died in 1926; attended Girls' High and Normal School, Boston; studied library science at the Athenaeum, Boston; never married; no children.

Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Caroline Hewins was the oldest of nine children in a family that also included a great-grandmother, a grandmother, two aunts, and an uncle. She later credited all the "elderlies" in her life with instilling in her a love of books. By the time she was 15, she boasted an acquaintance with the works of Dickens, Scott, Irving, Thackeray, Longfellow, Tennyson, and Shakespeare. A bright student, Hewins graduated from high school as the youngest in her class and enrolled in Girls' High and Normal School in Boston, to prepare for a teaching career. While doing research work at Boston's Athenaeum, however, she decided to become a librarian instead. In 1875, after training under the famous Dr. William F. Poole, she took a job as the librarian of the Hartford Young Men's Institute, a subscription library with closed shelves "for the Intellectual and moral improvement of the young men of Hartford." (The library became the Hartford Public Library in 1893.) Hewins spent the next 50 years in Hartford, where she not only expanded and improved adult library facilities but established the first children's library in the city.

Perhaps due to the literary pursuits of her own childhood, Hewins was appalled by the reading habits of Hartford's children. "Within the last month one boy has asked for Jack Harkaway Stories," she wrote in the Hartford Library Association Bulletin of 1878, "another for bound volumes of the Police Gazette…. The demand from girls for the New York Weekly novels is not small." By 1882, Hewins had compiled a list, Books for the Young, and embarked on a series of classroom talks aimed at encouraging children to expand the scope of their reading. In an old house adjacent to the main library building, she set up a children's room where she presided over story hours and established a reading club. She wrote plays and coached the children in performing them. She oversaw parades on the lawn and a number of festival celebrations. Her success was such that, in 1907, a full-time children's librarian was hired.

Hewins' goals, however, were wider in scope. In 1891, she helped to form the Connecticut Library Association, serving as its first secretary and, later, as its president. She was also instrumental in convincing the legislature to create a Public Library Committee, which, commissioned in 1893, helped establish libraries throughout the state. Hewins was also active as a lecturer, a committee member, and a contributor to library journals. In 1900, she spoke to the American Library Association's meeting in Montreal about her pioneering efforts on behalf of children.

Although Hewins had hoped to see a larger children's library in her lifetime, none was forthcoming. However, in 1926, the Hartford Librarians Club established a fund for the Caroline M. Hewins Scholarship for Children's Librarians, which they presented to her at a dinner honoring her golden anniversary at the Hartford Public Library.


Danton, Emily Miller, ed. Pioneering Leaders in Librarianship. American Library Association, 1953.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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